safewords fear and safety in BDSM kink and fetishBDSM safewords: what are they, and do we all really need them?

There’s a worrying trend in BDSM to spurn the use of safewords. For me, safewords are not an optional extra, they are a requirement for ‘play’. I use the term play not to lessen the importance of kinky activities, but rather as an umbrella term for anything that could be described as being part of BDSM.

Safewords are the final say when it comes to consent. They are the often unspoken reminder than what happens, happens due to both parties consenting. When a safeword is available for use, but not spoken, there is a clear, ringing silence which allows everyone involved to continue without danger of harming someone, mentally, physically, emotionally. Everyone involved consents.

Consent is what separates kink and BDSM from abuse.

What exactly is a safeword, anyway?

A safeword is a word or short phrase mutually agreed between all involved individuals for the kinky activity. This word is known by all parties so as to protect everyone involved. If this is spoken during the session at any time, then it means the activities must stop immediately.

A safeword or phrase should be something completely different to anything that might be said during the scene or session. During scenes of power exchange and control play, words such as ‘no’ and ‘stop’ are likely to be said as part of the roleplay, without actually meaning ‘no’ and ‘stop. This is especially true for enjoyable struggling in bondage, or deeper and more intense fetish scenes such as ‘rape’ play and ‘forced’ activities. I put them in quote marks because all activities are consensual, remember.

Another type of ‘safewording’ practice which is in common usage throughout the BDSM scene is the traffic lights system. Instead of selecting a word and then having to remember that word or phrase, the colours of the traffic lights are used to convey comfort levels throughout the activities.

traffic lights safety system in bdsm kink and fetish

For instance, a Top or Dominant may want to check their submissive or bottom’s ease with what’s happening, before or during a new activity for them or something which is quite daring in that D/s dynamic. Upon asking, “How are we doing?” or “How are you feeling about x?” the submissive may reply with “green”, therefore conveying that they still consent and feel comfortable about proceedings.

‘Amber’ and ‘red’ are used more frequently however. These are generally spoken by the submissive or bottom, although not always. A Dominant may wish to stop proceedings too, out of concern either for their own mental welfare or safety of their submissive. Some submissives may be prone to allowing themselves to be pushed further than they usually would, if in a state of sub-space or out of a great desire to please their owner, Dominant or Top.

Stating ‘amber’ means ‘can we stop for a moment to discuss how happy I/we are to proceed’ and ‘red’ means a flat-out ‘stop this immediately’.

If you (or your submissive) is in a situation or position where their ability to speak is taken away, such as when using a mouth gag or hood, then another form of ‘safing out’ should be made available. Give them a sound button in their hands to press, a bell, or even finger signals.

Submissives would also do well to remember that not using a safeword when it’s required isn’t a point of pride, it’s putting yourself at risk. Even if you’re not in physical pain from the activities, BDSM touches upon our vulnerabilities and psychological dangers are present – as they are with any close activity with others, even vanilla. You may feel proud that you didn’t use your safeword, but how would your Dominant feel if they were unwittingly pushing you beyond a point you 100% consented to?

Safewords and traffic lights should always be respected and adhered to. There are NO exceptions. If you do not respect them, you do not respect your play-partner or BDSM partner, and you are in fact subjecting them to cruelty and abuse instead of the fun to be found in the world of BDSM.

If a BDSM player/partner states that they do not use safewords, whether due to personal pride or some false sense of superiority, I would strongly advise you to reconsider whether you want to place yourself into a vulnerable mental and physical situation with that person.

For me, safewords are a requirement, not an option. How about you?

Read the rest of my Fetish Friday articles and advice posts here.

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– Cara Sutra

11 Responses to “Talking BDSM – are safewords really necessary?”

  1. Kera

    Requirement.
    I know someone who is just getting into being tied up and giving her partner full on control of her pleasure, and the first thing I told her was ALWAYS have a safe word, then going on about the traffic light system. I’m thankful that while I have a safeword with my Mr, He always knows when I am feeling hesitant or need to stop without the use of it.
    I could never submit to someone who does not use safewords, I wouldn’t be able to trust them.

    Reply
  2. InquisitiveClam

    I’d call it a requirement as well. I’m not even all that kinky, and I like having a safe word just in case. It gives me peace of mind that – no matter what my fiance and I choose to explore – it won’t go too far. It’s nice that it’s there.

    Reply
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    • Mistress M

      I brought a friend recently to a fetish party. She is a sub, but completely new to the scene. I played with her and could tell her pain threshold was low so I took it slow. She ended up playing with a male friend of mine, and I was worried for her because he seemed to be going very intense on her. I found out after that he had told her at the start not to say “red” because the people managing the party would rush in and throw him out. I think it is completely irresponsible to try to discourage from using safety words. That party has rules about the traffic light system for a reason. She also said “almost yellow” and he questioned her on that. This is one of her first times playing ever, and it is best to not go too hard, or we may lose someone who could of loved this scene because one bad apple scared her off.

      Reply
  4. Mic

    For me and my wife it is also a requirement. We’re both just testing out and “playing” in the truliest meaning of the word. And therefore it is a real calming to know that both of us is at anytime able to break the position we put ourselves in without doing any harm. The traffic lights are very appreciated as well.

    Reply
  5. fesuremaybe

    I agree I think it should be a basic rule during BDSM Especially as it means then everyone is kept safe.

    Reply
  6. EROcentric

    I posted about safewords this month as well! =) Such an important topic.

    In my relationship, safewords are also a requirement. I feel that it truly brings a deeper level of consent and communication during sexual play of all kinds.

    Reply
  7. Cara Sutra

    Thanks for all your comments and reading my article. It’s such an important area – and yes I feel it’s a requirement too.
    Thanks again everyone x

    Reply
  8. Molly

    Requirement! And this point “Submissives would also do well to remember that not using a safeword when it’s required isn’t a point of pride, it’s putting yourself at risk.” and also putting your partner at risk. I couldn’t agree more with this statement and I truly hate the ‘oh but my Master/Dom etc is so in tune with me that I don’t need one’. Personally I think my husband is about as in tune with me as it is possible to be with another human being, but that still doesn’t mean he is inside my head or my body and can truly understand how I am experiencing something and nor would he ever claim to be.

    Mollyxxx

    Reply
  9. Dawn D

    I also just wrote about this a week ago 🙂 Funny how life goes!

    Reply
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